Monday, September 08, 2008

Three Bags Full

Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann

A witty philosophical murder mystery with a charming twist: the crack detectives are sheep determined to discover who killed their beloved shepherd.

On a hillside near the cozy Irish village of Glennkill, the members of the flock gather around their shepherd, George, whose body lies pinned to the ground with a spade. George has cared for the sheep, reading them a plethora of books every night. The daily exposure to literature has made them far savvier about the workings of the human mind than your average sheep. Led by Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in Glennkill (and possibly the world), they set out to find George's killer.

The A-team of investigators includes Othello, the "bad-boy" black ram; Mopple the Whale, a merino who eats a lot and remembers everything; and Zora, a pensive black-faced ewe with a weakness for abysses. Joined by other members of the richly talented flock, they engage in nightlong discussions about the crime and wild metaphysical speculations, and they embark on reconnaissance missions into the village, where they encounter some likely suspects. Ther's Ham, the terrifying butcher; Rebecca, a village newcomer with a secret and a scheme; Gabriel, the shady shepherd of a very odd flock; and Father Will, a sinister priest. Along the way, the sheep confront their own all-too-human struggles with guilt, misdeeds, and unrequited love.

I hadn't heard of this book before I visited some friends that had a copy. They hadn't read it yet, but they thought I'd like it so they let me borrow it. Of course right after that I saw the book in a bookstore in the Las Vegas McCarran Int'l Airport (it seems I always misjudge the amount of reading material I'll need on any trip I take; that time I ended up buying a copy of The Tenderness of Wolves).

In any case, this weekend I finished the book. I really liked it, but I've been having difficulty trying to figure out how to describe the book.

Leonie Swann does a great job imagining the ovine perspective (and creating a large cast of characters, each of whom manages to have a distinct personality). The book is funny, but it's not a comedy. The humor comes in how the sheep (mis)interpret the humans around them. In that way the book is brilliant, but it's hard to give any decent examples because nothing works nearly as well out of the full context of the novel.

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